Sometime I wonder…

Posted by on Jan 28, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

When you die

By the second year of our being together I once again made peace with my mortality. I’d done it first at age 11 in Santa Fe when I understood that death’s sting was not in dying which is pretty much like waking up from a chaotic dream, but in others dying. I cried because those I loved would die and in my agony came an understanding. This freed me up to play Russian roulette with all chambers loaded. I was a daffy kid all charged up on the creative energy of what would be later identified as attention problems. Back then it was thought of as mental retardation and not as a broader, faster more imaginative way of perception, so I was free. No one expected anything of me so when I did deliver it was such a surprise I was forgiven my trespasses over and over and over. Except by Marilyn. She has a cut-off point.

Marilyn out of the blue would say, When you’re dead… Or, When you die… Not If, or sometime down the road when you die. The way it sounded to me was that I was a lucky guy if I made it to dinnertime. It bothers me she thinks this way. It’s as if she doesn’t trust me to stay around mortally. I knew then and I know now that I will never die but that my mortality is going to wear thin sometime in my 80’s or 90’ but I don’t need updates all the time, her penciling in things to do a few days away because I might cack off. Sure, she says to Mike on the phone, send Alex over for the weekend, but Grandpa might not be with us by then.

But as a slacker the chances are better for me making it to really old age than her, a Schaefian woman who does too much, has always done too much and will forever do too much, which to her is barely enough.

I’d tell her, You’re programming me to predecease you. How come? She’d say that women live longer than men, it’s statistics is all. Marilyn took a statistics course in college and has been in love with the process ever since. I make up statistics to win arguments, and she reveres them as truth and worships them like a baby does a breast. She memorizes statistics. Back in that class 50 years ago there was this one particular statistic that gave her comfort: Women live longer than men. This was based on women staying at home with the children more than now and culturally disallowed from being as ambitious and driven as male counterparts. I don’t think she has upgraded that statistic, but even if she has and it remains true why does she keep bringing it up? I tried doing the same with her so she’d know how it felt but she paid no attention. She knew I didn’t have the statistics. The figures have already buried me.

I’ll say But, sweetheart, I know men who outlived their wives and she’ll say Name one. I’ll say longevity rules in my family and that we all live into our 90’s, and she says yes but my mother died relatively young and I say 86 is not relatively young and that she smoked and drank for four people and ate sweet and fatty foods and never exercised beyond the bed. Marilyn’s blood pressure is so high there’s smoke coming out her ears, and she swills milk like a newborn calf, she’s on her feet fifteen hours a day and if she wants some statistics for the expected lifespan of someone like that I can find some real ones in reputable sources like the AMA Journal and Readers Digest. She isn’t listening, I lost her on Yes but… She says ‘When you die I will have the RV to live in.’

Why do I have to die for her to live in the RV? It’s not that she is marking my death in her daily reminder book, which she can’t find anyway, it is simply a matter of fact that I will die a lot sooner than her and I may as well get used to it and live fully until that time comes in a few hours. That irked me when she said it to me our first year together, and it still does 26 years later. She loves my response, the voice going up a few octaves, eyes bulging and my full focus on her.

Maybe as my guardian angel she wants me to feel my life isn’t open ended that much any more and sooner or later if I want to accomplish anything I will have to start getting serious and do some sustained work. It bothers her I’ve had it easy all my life, things just running to me in abundance while she’s struggled for everything she has and taken responsibility for everyone around her while I leapt into and out of relationships at will, never cultivating any of the moral assets a human being must live by. At least live by to qualify as being Minnesotan and not just a self-serving ageing juvenile delinquent Santa Fe toad with charm, good looks and a killer smile as a moral substitute

If I die… Of course she will have the RV to live in. And the house. I mean she has an insurance policy on me and has for 14 years, I may be worth more dead than alive to her at this point so it’s not as if she will be out on the street if I decide to buy the farm. And she knows this, at least part of her does. The Vow-of-Poverty part of her does not. It doesn’t even know about the RV or the insurance policy or the equity in this house. The VOP part of her talks of moving into Sister Virginia’s tiny room off the Priory campus when I die and they will eat hardtack, sip water they pump from the well a mile away and carry in a wooden pail to the cell, and sleep wedged into corners. I think she really misses that life and wants to get back to it, the sooner the better. She was purely adored and revered by the nuns and prioresses, priests, bishops, the children and adults she taught and the teachers who taught her. She brought light and joy to their lives. That’s my observation, not hers. She longs to get back to that life but to do so, choke, gasp, I must die. It’s just a feeling thing. She loves me and doesn’t really and truly want me dead, but if I follow her fifty-year-old statistics she could get back to the best part of her life pretty soon.

I asked her What if I don’t die first, you know? What if you die first, huh? She smiled sadly: Then you will be up the creek.

Can that be true? Am I a kind of ventriloquist dummy needing someone’s guiding hand up inside my head and heart to make me alive?

I want to be buried in the vacant lot next door to us, if vacant lots have doors. It is the only one along Riverview and is between Paul’s and us. Deer use it as a miniforest when they swim over from the island. Wild turkeys browse there, nest in the cellar of a small house that burned down long ago. In summer it is thick with bush and raspberry bramble and volunteer elm and ancient apple trees trying for a come-back.

Once when Marilyn was especially intense about when I die I told her I wanted to be cremated and my ashes emptied into the Mississippi, but I’ve grown to love this home and neighborhood so much I want to stay here, at least to seed my carbon atoms as a sort of magnetic homing device for my spirit to find its way to visit and maybe throw a haunt or two into whoever is living in here then. Marilyn will either be in the RV or the monastic cell she’ll share with Sister Virginia. When we first moved in I saw the small dark figure of a woman in the hallway a few times, peripherally.

What I like about being buried or dusted from an urn in the vacant lot is keeping my death informal, no polished stone with a formal thumbnail of who I was and when I was. I will grow things for the turkeys and deer and mice and groundhogs to eat and get to know them from another perspective, without words and hearsay to color my direct experience of them. I have spent all my life observing from an educated, downloaded empirical software perspective that has made me more like a harnessed buggy horse with blinders directed by a whip and road I had no say in designing or destining. My pure spirit leaves all this behind when I die and I get to experience life without learned prejudices. I won’t see the mice as potential invaders of my home in winter or the cats as killers of songbirds or the turkeys as the last of the wild genesis now cloned for my Christmas table. The deer will not be venison, or an extraordinary glimpse of the wild, they will be deer people with their own language, loves, plays and dreams, their own myths and culture and invisible libraries of learning. And when people using the river trail wander into my vacant lot they will feel me watching them and those with some paranormal sensitivity could possibly see a bright pinpoint of light peripherally and be aware of my presence.

John Drummond, who owns the lot, wanted to build there, sometimes comes by in his wheelchair to visit the grounds he had hoped to have his dream house on until the Fridley City Hall added some restrictions that ended that. Marilyn and I talked about buying it some day when we get rich and turning it into a park for everyone, though with insurance prohibitions we’d have to keep it officially as our extended yard, a Japanese garden of sorts with winding paths and lots of flowers and cultivated gnarled trees with a few stone benches no one could fall off or stumble over even if they tried. We will have passive seat restraints installed on the benches that come about your lap when you sit and lift you to standing when you begin to get up.

We could look out over it from the second story addition I am planning for Marilyn with her office and its deck overlooking the vacant lot garden, with a small private chapel on the south side and a sunny greenroom in between with a broad deck overlooking the Mississippi. She can sit and watch the birds and squirrels and gone-wild cats and field mice, as she loves to now from the downstairs porch. And when I’m gone, and before she moves to Virginia’s cell, she will be able to look at the special consecrated plot of angel trumpets where she planted me and remember what a terrific guy I was and miss me mightily. Maybe she’ll murmur with fond love, I told you so.


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Sister Thomas, aka Marilyn

Posted by on Jan 28, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

Marilyn aka Sister Thomas… (From Marilyn & Me)

Marilyn went into the convent in the beginnings of the 50’s, stepping away from the world’s apocalyptic culture shift until released from her vows by the Vatican in 1967. When she left fifteen years later the church gave her a few dollars to start a new life with and an ankle length gingham dress. Sister Thomas, now Marilyn Toner once again, would continue spiritual work on her own and go on to earn a Masters Degree, then reinvent herself as a professor of nursing in San Diego, working on her PhD.

It was Vatican II days, there was hope the Catholic Church could he hauled into the twentieth century with a married clergy and a new life philosophy emanating from the people and their needs, a holy See sea washing freely upon a shore of love instead of dribbled from a goblet for the purposes of washing away sin.

The Vatican proclaimed victory with Absolution of Itself just as It was, and pulled out of the conclave it had gathered from around the Catholic world to bring some heart to its monolith-ism. It walked out the two-ton brass door with its aged aegis intact. Some of what had changed in three years of debate was that the beautiful Latin of the service was changed to the local languages of the people, who may have preferred the classic tradition of praying in a beautifully cadenced tongue they didn’t understand that brought into their hearts the mystique of the soul.

There was a priest Marilyn met while in the nunnery she exchanged letters with, continuing conversations begun the year before. He had two sisters in a nunnery in San Francisco, and one day they called Marilyn at her parent’s house from St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis. They’d come to visit family and while in town were anxious to meet. Their brother had written so much about her.

After that meeting Marilyn said she knew what the arrowed Saint Sebastian felt like. Father Jeremy was the only priest in the family and he was in love with her. His sisters ordered Marilyn to stop his love instantly and leave him alone. Marilyn said she was here and he was there, she had no control over him or his heart. They commanded she stop responding to his letters and luring him on. He was talking of leaving the priesthood and coming out to marry her. They stamped their feet and held their breath till they turned blue. Do you hear? We forbid this! They may as well have performed the marriage service right then.

She was dating a man from the Peace Corps and considering joining him in the work. Also, she had met an old farmer whose wife died in the hospital where Marilyn worked and who felt that since she was with his wife when she breathed her last she ought to take her place. Old country thinking. He kept calling her with this fabulous proposal of having her milk the cows, keep his home humming, raise some fresh children and scythe his crops by hand with his workers in the autumn. The priest was there during one of these calls but when Marilyn told the farmer she was in love with another and handed the phone to Father Jeremy, Jerry began to counsel the farmer instead. Marilyn wanted less detachment, I think.

Another time he was there when the Peace Corps worker friend dropped by with a sheaf of papers to say he had arranged for her interview with the local director and there was the possibility he was shipping out to South America by Spring and hoped she’d be with him.

Not many of Jerry’s family were at their wedding, certainly not the two nuns on the West Coast. Together Marilyn and Jerry took on the Vietnam War, the arthritic church and all the social ills they could handle. They were in the mainstream now and had never been happier. They knew how to help and for the first time in their lives were free of all institutional restraints to their pure ambition to help everyone, anyone, anytime. Marilyn got her Masters in teaching, Jeremy a PhD in Psychology. Michael was born, and then they adopted Julianne and Jonnie.

They caught up on everything they’d missed inside, it was no longer prairie thunder, it was Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, movies, TV, dancing, politics and organized protests while continuing the traditions they learned in the church. They were a pure balance of the secular and the religious, whole human beings so long selfless now learning about the rest of who they were, and of their power and glory.


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First World War Fighter Plane

Posted by on Jan 20, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

When I was little, say around ten, I’d get a balsa wood U.S. fighter plane kit from the toy store downtown and spend days putting the plane together out of the balsa wood cutouts, covering the fuselage with rice paper, painting and pasting on decals, and always the same plane with rubber band motor and plastic propeller with a balsa wood machine gun mounted on the nose of the plane.
Then I’d go up on the roof of our house with a can of lighter fluid, spray that on, wind the prop counter clockwise till it was tight, then light the plane with a match and let it go, watch its journey as it circled and eventually crashed. I never tired of it. Well, maybe in high school, y’know.

I did this many times after I’d saved allowance. It was beautiful and the feeling went to the core of me. I didn’t know why I did it, but it may’ve had something to do with dreams I had of flying just such a plane and being shot down in the First World War.

I didn’t share this with anyone till now. This was just after the Second World War was over. One of the shot-down pilots from the Pacific War who stayed on in Santa Fe after being discharged from the Army hospital at Bruns General, I’d see walking around town with a part of his face flesh melted into a fluid kind of way, and whenever I’d see him our eye’d lock and there’d be a moment of kinship. I didn’t take it as kinship till now. Back then I was horrified. But I kept making the same biplane over and over.

I wonder….

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On The Road…

Posted by on Jan 10, 2018 in Blog | Comments Off on On The Road…

Stafford, TX (a few years back)

Cutting diagonally south on 54 we came out of Kansas into the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. We’re in a park in Stafford in the flatlands of the Texas Panhandle eating lunch at a picnic table. Pebbles has all these new scents to check out. Some Mexican women walk their little children to the swings and slides, looking at Pebbles to gauge her safety factor.

Coming out of Kansas there is a pretty quick shift from its formality. On the left almost in the wake of the state line is an open auto junkyard like from back when I was a kid and they were more like free theme parks than something to hide behind corrugated metal fences. Two ancient VW bugs sit side by side on their grassy porch facing the highway.

Now there are islands of piney wind-breaks marking farms way off the highway, little buzz-cuts of dark green on drab yellow stretching on forever.
The highway becomes more relaxed with narrow lanes from the Fifties, veined bumpy surface and faded out yellow centerlines. Where there were safety furrows retrofitted onto the shoulders they are now eroded into shallow depressions so tired drivers are allowed to wander off the road at will without being shaken awake.

The small towns are what-the-hell kind of communities from way back laid out with the used-up machinery and tractors and trucks melting back into the earth in the directions they were going on their last trip. We listened to Clapton and J. J. Hale’s Running Down a Dead End Road. Hook looked like some well mannered tornado scooted through every few years to see about rearranging things in case they started to suggest a pattern of man-made organization, let’s say someone came back from the city for health reasons and decided the hometown needed fixing up. Word got to Tornado Central in the sky and some dropped by to remind the people of how they liked things naturally coming together and falling apart. It is a comfort. I may retire here and sit on a tilting porch to soak up more peace. A fellow like me is made of tornado rearrangements.

The other night Marilyn got up and slid the bedroom door closed to go up front and read to see if she could get sleepy again. When I got up she said she’d just started this fabulous book and how the opening grabbed her right off with conversation between the two characters that did away with the need for narrative description of how they looked. I told her I’d like to see it and she showed me a book I’d written years before based on a horseback trail trip made with a friend. We rode the desert route of the Santa Fe Trail from Ulysses, Kansas and got to Santa Fe three weeks later. She was genuinely relieved I could write. She hadn’t been able to get into my earlier books.

People who know me don’t want to read me, our kids especially. People who want to meet me after reading me are disappointed when they do. So why do I write? Because it’s fun and what I do in life besides swim laps and drive the RV back and forth between Minnesota and Mexico.

There’s a movie called Big Fish where a road salesman brings home these tales he shares with his kids that are so unbelievable they’re glad when he goes back on the road. When he dies all these unbelievable people show up for his funeral, a regular circus sideshow of storybook characters that in fact exist. His wife, kids and friends are astonished. He was telling the truth. Now they want to hear more of his stories but it’s too late. My kids and Marilyn’s are still at that disbelieving step. Not Cristina, though. She knows.

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Two Sources of Freedom

Posted by on Dec 25, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

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Christmas along the ol’ Miss

Posted by on Dec 25, 2017 in Blog | Comments Off on Christmas along the ol’ Miss

Christmas Message from a Nut Job…

I wuz walking along the Mississippi a few minutes ago thinking of all I have to be happy for. It is below zero, the surface of river is slushy wanting to turn to ice, the air is stillish but when it has to cough and raise ripples the temp goes down another ten degrees.

This jacket I have on keeps the heat my body’s generating in like a layer of love, and the collar zips all the way up to my ears so I’m cuddly. The gloves are fleece-lined leather and as long as I curl my fingers up from the finger sheaths I’m okay. I am 😯 and here walking Riverview Terrace midday toward the park. It’s Christmas and I’m alive…and able to do this—-what a gift. I had a little Jamaica rum 20 minutes ago as a kind of antifreeze so I’m thinking of the Jamaicans down there on their precious island and’m blessing them and making plans to fly down on Sun Country to thank every one of them.

But I’m also thinking of what it’s like to be walking along holding hands in a sense with the Mississippi with a bright sun shining down. I mean I don’t have to be out here daring the elements, I could be at home at the end of the street where the deer and wild turkeys hang out next door in a spot of woods looking out at it with my beauteous wife Marilyn. But I’m happy.

I could be in Borrego Springs where we spent the last ten winters in a pocket of heat that seldom drops below 2OOO degrees in winter and there’s swimming pools and other ancients limping about to play golf with and regularly gather at the clubhouse to rock and roll, a terrible sight, yep, but still everyone gets to be a teenager again for a few hours sipping once-forbidden booze and remembering youth and sweethearts long ago and far away.

Could, but I need zero degrees with a blue sky and the Mississippi with its necklace pearls of ice drifting next to me headed south. I need fingers curled into a protective fist inside the sheepskin thermal gloves that don’t quite do the job, and a determination to make it as far as Big John’s house a few blocks away before doing an about-face and wending home, subdued, but uplifted. And not beaten.

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